Jef Raskin, the lead designer of the first Macintosh computer and a pioneer in the development of user interfaces, died Saturday at age 61. He had been diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer, his family said in a statement.
Raskin joined Apple Computer Inc. in 1978 as employee number 31 and headed the company’s Macintosh development team from its founding in 1982. He named the project after his favorite type of apple, changing the spelling for copyright reasons.
He is credited with significantly advancing the design of user interfaces, which in the early 1980s were largely text-based and required users to memorize complex commands. Raskin convinced his peers at Apple that to reach a wider audience, the Macintosh needed an interface that was elegant and easy to use.
“Up to that time, at Apple and most other manufacturers, the concept was to provide the latest and most powerful hardware, and let the users and third-party software vendors figure out how to make it usable,” he wrote later on his Web site.
Raskin left Apple in 1982, two years before the Macintosh went on sale, but he continued to influence the design of computers through his writing, lectures and consulting work. Soon after leaving the company he founded Information Appliance Inc., where he designed the Canon Cat computer for Canon USA Inc., although the product was not a commercial success.
His consulting clients have included Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and many other big names in computing. In 2000 he published a book, “The Humane Interface,” that is widely assigned at universities. Raskin was currently at work on a project called Archy, where he hoped to put many of the ideas expressed in his book into software. Archy uses simple commands for common operations in word processing and e-mail, but “doesn’t work like anything else on this or nearby planets,” meaning users would have to learn it from scratch, he wrote on his Web site.
His son, Aza Raskin, will continue to develop the project, a preview version of which is due out later this year, his family said in the statement.
Raskin’s interests were not restricted to computers: He taught the recorder, harpsichord and music theory at San Francisco Community College in the 1970s, and his family described him as an orchestral soloist and composer. He also founded a company that designed and sold radio-controlled model aircraft. Along with Aza, he is survived by his wife, Linda Blum, and his other children, Aviva and Aenea. Raskin lived most recently in Pacifica, California.
More information about Jef Raskin is available at his Web site, www.jefraskin.com. More information about Archy is at www.raskincenter.org.